New Moon

Sometimes truth arrives in a plain brown wrapper. Unannounced. Given our temporal location in the second decade of the twenty first century in this instance the truth actually arrived buried on an unmarked CD which I opened on my trusty PC.

It was in a PDF document amongst many that related to disclosures on a parcel of land in which we have an interest across the street from us on Koenigstein. In the archealogical reconnaissance conducted on the 144 acres which the Trexon corporation (Jim Exon and David Trudeau) subdivided into seven 20 acre parcels, was the news (to me) that,

"?Awha'y, meaning "moon", was the name of the principle rancheria (Chumash village) of what is the upper Ojai Valley, and from which the modern name Ojai is derived."

I had read that same document seven years ago when it was bundled in the disclosures given to us when we were in the process of purchasing our original Koenigstein parcel. But its 'truth" did not resonate at the time, namely that we are living in an area that has an historical connection to a place-name with roots sunk deep in pre-history, in the traditions of its indigenous people.

The moon is remarkable in this high valley. When I left for my run a few days ago the quarter moon was just rising above the hill that shelters the house to the east, the shadowy full moon from two weeks ago was in its arms and its horn seemingly ripped at the ragged edge of the skyline. By the time I was up on the mesa above Sisar it had risen to become a sliver in the brightening sky. We missed its full glory, for we are seeing now the waning of what was the brightest moon in eighteen years. The full moon of March 20, 2011 - a so-called supermoon - was obscured in Ojai by dense cloud and rain.

Elsewhere it was experienced as bigger and brighter because the moon was closer to the earth than it had been since 1993. The moon follows an elliptical orbit with one side (perigee) about 50,000 km closer to Earth than the other (apogee): according to NASA, nearby perigee moons are about 14% bigger and 30% brighter than lesser moons that occur on the apogee side of the moon's orbit. The coincidence of a full moon with the extreme perigee condition renders it a supermoon.

The moon was used as a calendar by the Chumash, the thirteen lunar cycles keeping in reasonable sync with the earth's annual orbit of the sun. Like the Iroquois who named moons (in spring it was the Moon called Day Will Become Longer) the Chumash likely identified the thirteen cycles with other natural events; but the moon was also understood to be a protagonist in the heavenly wars that the Chumash observed as having direct influence on their lives and in which they could have some small influence by their appropriate ritual behavior.

John Peabody Harrington (Yuccapedia) is our link to the sky-watcher cult of 'antap in which the astrologers were known as 'alchuklash. He interviewed Chumash survivors at the beginning of the twentieth century and recorded their tales of the heavenly wars in which the moon acted as a referee. Local Native American astronomical records survive in the form, most notably, of rock paintings and Chumash solstice rituals are survived by sun-stick and feathered sun-pole paraphernalia.

So, we have Upper Ojai pre-existing back into the mists of time as
?Awha'y and the name of what is now known as Ojai (or, as Jeffray Fargher called it, L'ojai) dating back to the First World War when it was no longer convenient to have a German-sounding name like Nordhoff. Nordhoff too, originated as a flag of convenience. The nineteenth century village in the lower valley was named in 1874 to take advantage of Charles Nordhoff's guide book, California for Health, Wealth and Residence, published in 1872. Subsidized by the railroad, Nordhoff championed the settlement of Southern California and his book was carried by most of its tourists. He did not visit Nordhoff until 1881 and in a subsequent issue of his guide, wrote glowingly of the valley's salubrious climate. In 1917, the name was unceremoniously changed to Ojai.

In 1914 the glass magnate Edward Drummond Libbey hired a San Diego architect, Richard S. Requa to design a new downtown for the ramshackle western town. The Spanish Colonial arcade, post office campanile and Libbey park pergola were styled to take advantage of the Mission Myth - single handedly propogated by Helen Hunt jackson in her best selling novel Ramona, 1884 (California Dreamin'). Thus for a third time, the town of Ojai (nee Nordhoff) adopted a brand makeover based on contemporaneous popular taste or prejudice.

Richard B. Applegate, in a paper titled Chumash Placenames published in the Journal of California Anthropology, 1974 categorizes the place-name    ?Awha'y as originating in a specific incident. Perhaps it was the rising of a supermoon over the Santa Paula ridge which, from a Chumash vantage point on the northern slope of Sulphur Mountain may have identified this place with ?Awha'y, the moon. In the late summer of 2008 when our house was framed in shiny metal studs we visited the site in twilight with friends and watched as a full moon rose over the east hill and the carcass of the house, its ribs gleaming, came alive in the moonlight. The moon is capable of a strange magic: tomorrow I will watch for the crescent of the new moon which will be briefly visible to the south west, before it sinks behind Kahus (The Bear), the Chumash name for Black Mountain, the hill below Sulphur Mountain, between Soule Park and Lion Creek.

This morning as I left the house at the first sign of dawn a great inland sea lay before me: the marine layer was densely settled in the valley and washing up the slopes of Sulphur Mountain while Kahus rose out of the sea, an island in this ghostly ocean. As the sky lightened the high clouds to the north west were dappled in a deep pink, reflecting the blush of the awakening sun. We live in a supernaturally-charged valley: we live in the valley of the moon, ?Awha'y.

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